Herb Wyile. Anne of Tim Hortons: Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic-Canadian Literature. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011. xi + 279 pp. $42.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55458-326-3.
Reviewed by Corey Slumkoski (Mount Saint Vincent University)
Published on H-Canada (May, 2014)
Commissioned by Jane Nicholas (University of Waterloo/St. Jerome's)
Corey Slumkoski on Anne of Tim Hortons: Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic-Canadian Literature
The idyllic Atlantic Canada is a trope well entrenched in the literature of the Atlantic region, with the most well-known example being Lucy Maud Montgomery’s perky redhead in Anne of Green Gables. First published in 1908, Anne of Green Gables has gone on to international acclaim and popularity, and Anne likely remains the most recognizable figure in the canon of Atlantic Canadian literature. A hard-scrabble orphan who ends up spending her days in the bucolic fields of Prince Edward Island, competing for top marks in school with her future husband Gilbert, and serving her friend Diana the occasional ill-advised glass of “raspberry cordial,” Anne has come to represent (and continues to present) an antimodern image of an Atlantic Canada free from the stresses of modern industrial capitalism--an image that for many continues to shape their view of the region.
The romanticizing of Atlantic Canada is a problem with which contemporary Atlantic Canadian authors have had to grapple. The recent work of such novelists as Michael Crummy, Wayne Johnston, Lynn Coady, and David Adams Richards, to name but a few, have been grounded in the Atlantic region’s history of underdevelopment and recent experience with neoliberalism and globalization; as such, they often conflict with readers’ preconceived expectations of a region “populated by cheery, hospitable, rubber-booted denizens figuratively laying out the welcome mat for weary urban visitors” (p. 22). It is this discrepancy between reality and expectation--between the “exotic” and the “marginal” (p. 24)--that Acadia University’s Herb Wyile seeks to understand in his Anne of Tim Hortons: Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic-Canadian Literature. As Wyile sees it, “Atlantic-Canadian literature in English ... is characterized by a sophisticated response to the double-edged and profoundly disempowering vision of the region [as a pastoral retreat].” As a result, many of Atlantic Canada’s contemporary authors “both stage a resistance to idyllic constructions of the region as a leisure space and exhibit an acute consciousness of the degree to which the region is shaped by past and present economic, political and social developments, rather than being hermetically sealed in the nineteenth century” (p. 6). To address these themes, Wyile’s Anne of Tim Hortons features seven chapters organized into three distinct sections. The first section provides an overview of the changing nature of work in Atlantic Canada, and contains chapters on the fishery, mining and resource extraction, and the service industry. The second section, which covers the reshaping of Atlantic Canadian culture, features chapters on cultural minorities and on the impact of tourism. The final section, on globalization and commodification in the region, has chapters on these themes as they apply to the literature of Newfoundland and the Maritime Provinces.
One of the most striking revelations of Anne of Tim Hortons is the parallel paths of contemporary Atlantic Canadian literature and historiography. The work Wyile surveys reinforces the conclusions of the Acadiensis school of regional history. This school--ably represented by such historians as E. R. Forbes, David Frank, and Margaret Conrad--has consistently challenged the myth of Maritime conservatism. Through their studies of such topics as the feminist movement in late nineteenth-century Halifax, labor disputes in the Cape Breton coal fields, and regional cooperation among provincial governments in the 1950s and 1960s, the Acadiensis school has shown that the Maritimes was not the home of an entrenched conservatism, and was instead often at the forefront of adopting radical solutions to social, economic, and political problems.
This is a historiography with which Wyile is well acquainted, for although his is clearly a work of literary analysis, he has thoroughly grounded in the region’s history his study of the representations of Atlantic Canada in contemporary fiction. For example, Wyile’s introduction offers a richly theoretical overview of the construction of an Atlantic Canadian region. Influenced by Edward Soja’s contention (in Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory ) that sub-national regions are the product of uneven capitalist development, Wyile provides a concise yet convincing overview of the underdevelopment of the Maritimes since confederation, and of Newfoundland since the suspension of responsible government in 1933, through to the recent neoliberal turn in public policy. As Wyile suggests, the proliferation of neoliberal dogma in the formation of Canadian public policy has led to greater pressure on Canadian workers, particularly in the resource sectors so important to the Atlantic Canadian economy, along with the retraction of the social programs that constitute much of the Canadian welfare state and increased criticisms of the redistributive programs, such as equalization, designed to level the federal playing field. These pressures are well revealed in the works that Wyile surveys. For example, his chapter on the representation of tourism in Atlantic Canadian fiction--a chapter that draws on the important work of Ian McKay (The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia ) and James Overton (Making A World of Difference: Essays on Tourism, Culture, and Development in Newfoundland ) to frame the analysis--reveals how recent transformations of the Atlantic Canadian economy have heightened the importance of the tourist industry. As a result, this industry often has to mediate between the Atlantic Canada visitors expect and the Atlantic Canada they experience. This tension has led to what Wyile has termed a “coerced hospitality” that has led to “a resentment and resistance to the material and symbolic imposition that tourism typically represents” that can be found both on the ground and in Atlantic Canadian literature (p. 138).
Perhaps the biggest problem with this book is its use of Atlantic Canada as an organizational concept. As a number of historians have shown, and as Wyile himself recognizes, the notion of an Atlantic Canadian region is in many ways a false construction--residents of the four Atlantic provinces rarely see themselves as belonging to a coherent region. And at times the “two solitudes” of Newfoundland and Maritime literatures are plainly revealed in this volume. For example, the chapter on work in the fishery is really a chapter on the changes that modernity has wrought on the Newfoundland fishery, changes that were also affecting fishers on the Atlantic Canadian mainland. While this may come down to a problem with source material for the chapter on the fishery--this reviewer can think of no comparable recent novel detailing the Maritime fishery--the division between Newfoundland and the Maritimes is even more striking in the section on globalization. Here Wyile explicitly recognizes the chasm between the two literatures by presenting two chapters, one that examines globalization’s impact on Newfoundland and one on the Maritimes. Moreover, the category of “Maritime literature” may itself be a bit overstated in this volume. In reality, what Wyile has detailed is largely a study of Nova Scotia literature, with and occasional dusting of work from New Brunswick; the literature of Prince Edward Island is largely absent.
Similarly, the chapter “The Simpler and More Colourful Way of Life” seems out of place. In this chapter, Wyile seeks to examine some of the more marginalized voices in Atlantic Canadian literature: those of the Mi’kmaw people, Africadians, and women. While Wyile should be commended for bringing the work of black and Mi’kmaw authors, such as Rita Joe, Chief Lindsay Marshal, George Elliott Clarke, and George Boyd, into his analysis and for detailing the way contemporary literature has portrayed the relationship between black and Mi’kmaw subjects with the dominate, white Anglo Maritime society, his tacking of a discussion of women writers in Atlantic Canada on to the end of this chapter seems a bit forced. This is especially true when one considers that other chapters provide detailed examinations of female-written novels with strong women characters, such as Lisa Moore’s February (2009) and Bernice Morgan’s Random Passage (1992). A more appropriate subject for analysis in this chapter may have been Acadian literature. Not only would a discussion of Acadians have been a better fit with this chapter’s focus on cultural minorities, it would also have remedied one of the books shortcomings--the complete disregard of work on Atlantic Canada’s francophone population. To be fair, Wyile does acknowledge that “for reasons of a lack of space and expertise” he has limited his study to works published in English (p. 249n2). Still, given Hans R. Runte’s contention that until fairly recently Acadian literature was largely unnecessary, since “the role literature would have played in Acadian society was already being played by an infinitely more natural cultural phenomenon: orality,” it would have been interesting to see to what extent the flowering of Acadian literature from the 1970s onward was affected by the neoliberal turn. The unintended result of excluding Acadian literature from this analysis is that it tends to homogenize Atlantic Canada as anglophone.
Anne of Tim Hortons is an excellent overview of the ways that recent English-language Atlantic Canadian literature has challenged the myth of the idyllic, antimodern region to which so many continue to adhere. Well written and engaging, this study provides a convincing account of neoliberalism’s impact on Atlantic Canadian fiction that is thoroughly situated in the region’s history and historiography. This is a welcome addition to work on the region’s literature, and would be equally at home in classes on Atlantic Canadian culture and Atlantic Canadian literature.
. See E. R. Forbes, “Battles in Another War: Edith Archibald and the Halifax Feminist Movement,” in Challenging the Regional Stereotype: Essays on the 20th Century Maritimes, ed. E. R. Forbes (Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 1989), 67-89; David Frank, “The Cape Breton Coal Industry and the Rise and Fall of the British Empire Steel Corporation,” Acadiensis 7, no. 1 (Autumn 1977): 3-34; and Margaret Conrad, “The Atlantic Revolution of the 1950s,” in Beyond Anger and Longing: Community and Development in Atlantic Canada, ed. Berkeley Fleming (Sackville and Fredericton: Centre for Canadian Studies, 1988), 55-96.
. See, for example, Margaret Conrad and James Hiller, introduction to Atlantic Canada: A Region in the Making (Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2001), 1, which suggests that “apart from fog and underdevelopment, the Maritimes share very little with Newfoundland.” See also Alan Wilson, “Crosscurrents in Maritime Regionalism,” in Federalism in Canada and Australia: Historical Perspectives, 1920-1988, ed. Bruce W. Hodgins, John J. Eddy, Shelagh D. Grant, and James Struthers (Peterborough: Frost Centre for Canadian Heritage and Development Studies, 1989), 366.
. Hans R. Runte, Writing Acadia: The Emergence of Acadian Literature, 1970-1990 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997), 9.
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